Advocates want felony for animal cruelty in Miss.

By Emily Wagster Pettus / The Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — On Christmas Eve in north Mississippi’s DeSoto County, four abused puppies were found abandoned like trash on the side of a road.

Officials don’t know who hurt the puppies and tossed them out, said Lydia Sattler, Mississippi director of the Humane Society of the United States. But even if the person had been found, current Mississippi law wouldn’t allow felony charges to be filed.

“They were wrapped in a box inside of a trash bag and they were thrown on the side of the road,” Sattler said. “It looked like they had been beaten because their skulls were fractured. They had infected, open wounds.”

Sattler was among more than a dozen advocates, including law-enforcement officers, who were at the state Capitol Tuesday pushing a bill that would make it a felony to maim or torture dogs or cats. They’re renewing efforts after a bill passed the Senate but died in a House committee last year.

Senate Judiciary B Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, D-Oxford, said Mississippi is one of four states without a felony law for abuse of pets.

A House committee chairman opted not to bring the animal cruelty bill up for debate in 2010 after it passed the Senate with bipartisan support. The politically powerful Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation and others lobbied against the bill, saying they feared it would hurt agriculture.

In his farewell speech as Farm Bureau Federation president in December, David Waide said “radicals” were pushing the animal cruelty bill in hopes of turning people into vegetarians and curtailing livestock production in the United States.

One of the main sponsors, Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, said last year’s bill would not have hurt farming. He said an identical bill has been filed this year, and he has received assurances that it will be debated if it goes to the House.

Senate President Pro Tempore Billy Hewes, R-Gulfport, said the bill includes specific protections for hunting and fishing. He also said Mississippi has had a law since 1942 making it a felony to mistreat livestock.

The sheriff of Mississippi’s largest county, Hinds County’s Malcolm McMillin, said he supports making it a felony to maim or torture dogs or cats. He said people who abuse animals often commit other crimes, including abusing children.

McMillin said people might be reluctant to report a neighbor for suspected child abuse but would find it less difficult to report the same person for hurting animals. He said responding to an animal-abuse call could lead to other arrests.

“What we know about animal abusers is that they’re often involved in child abuse, domestic violence, drugs and other criminal activities,” McMillin said during a Capitol news conference.

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The bill is Senate Bill 2127.